Page images


LORD BYRON'S quitting England excited a very considerable sensation; and perhaps the world, as it is called, never felt, if indeed it cau feel, a more general and sincere regret than was experienced at the cause of his self-banishment. To his intimate friends it was a source of great grief. His manners, although somewhat singular, were so delightful and fascinating as to excite an affectionate solicitude for him: not even the abstracted and melancholy moods in which he would indulge occasionally, and which gave an air of repulsiveness to his demeanour, could efface the impressions which, in more cheerful times, he never failed to make upon his associates.

Perhaps no man-certainly no poet-ever enjoyed so large a share of public as well as private estimation; and perhaps none ever so well deserved both. His powers of conversation were of the first order, and astonished and pleased not less by their brilliancy than by their rarity. His features were admirably adapted to give force to his eloquent discourse: they were not such as could be called, by painters, strictly handsome, but they were highly pleasing, and his countenance seemed to be the faithful index of the varied feelings and passions which occupied his mind. The following quotation from a very judicious and elegant article in the Quarterly Review' is at once so happily expressed, and so true a description of Lord Byron's face and manner, that we shall be pardoned for inserting it :

[ocr errors]

The predominating expression of his countenance was that of deep and habitual thought, which gave way to the most rapid play of features when he engaged in interesting discussion; so that a brother poet compared them to the sculpture of a beautiful alabaster vase, only seen to perfection when lighted up from within. The flashes of mirth, ⚫ gaiety, indignation, or satirical dislike, which frequently animated Lord Byron's countenance, might, during an evening's conversation, be mistaken by a stranger for the habitual expression, so easily and so happily was it formed for them all; but those who had an opportunity of studying his features for a length of time, and upon various occasions, both of rest and emotion, will agree with us that their proper language was that of melancholy. Sometimes shades of this gloom interrupted even his gayest and most happy moments, and the follow

ing verses are said to have dropped from his pen to excuse a transient expression of melancholy which overclouded the general gaiety.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Her dusky shadow mounts too high,

And o'er the changing aspect flits,

And clouds the brow, or fills the eye

Heed not the gloom that soon shall sink :
My thoughts their dungeon know too well;
Back to my breast the captives shrink,
And bleed within their silent cell."

'It was impossible to behold this interesting countenance, expressive of a dejection belonging neither to the rank, the age, nor the success of this young nobleman, without feeling an indefinable curiosity to ascertain whether it had a deeper cause than habit or constitutional temperament.'

The circumstances of the domestic disagreement which terminated in so harsh and unexpected a manner contributed not a little to draw the public attention to the subject, and it was very much the fashion to pity Lord Byron and to blame his lady, when the publication of the third canto of Childe Harold' confirmed the existing prejudice in his favour, while it added highly to his poetical reputation.

On a former occasion we have seen that Lord Byron disavowed the imputation of being himself the character he described in the hero of his poem. He did so either very seriously, or with an air of seriousness so well affected, that no one who read it could doubt his being în earnest, and that he had even been pained in the supposition which had got abroad. In the publication which he now submitted to the world he at once identifies himself with his hero, and teaches us to consider Lord Byron and Childe Harold as one and the same. In the very first stanzas he speaks in his own person, and most unequivocally, by addressing his infant daughter:

[ocr errors]

Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child!

Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted,-not as now we part,
But with a hope.-

Awaking with a start,
The waters heave around me; and on high
The winds lift up their voices: I depart,

Whither I know not; but the hour's gone by

When Albion's lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.

Once more upon the waters! yet once more!

And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
That knows his rider. Welcome to their roar !
Swift be their guidance, wheresoe'er it lead !
Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed,
And the rent canvass fluttering strew the gale,

Still must I on; for I am as a weed,

Flung from the rock, on Ocean's foam, to sail

Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail.

It is this kind of personal allusion that we most object to in the whole of this third canto, and we cannot but think that it forms a considerable drawback from the merit of the poem. After what had passed between Lord Byron and his lady, there was something unfair, almost unmanly, in his putting on, for the public, all the airs of a husband injured, but still forgiving, and who was driven from his home, when, in point of fact, the quitting that home was his own choice; and, of alı the blame which either of the parties might have deserved, his shame must in justice have been the larger.

This fault will, however, be, as it now should be, forgotten, and such parts of the poem as describe the author's own feelings will be read by posterity with an interest as intense as that which they have created in his own days. The stanzas which are subjoined are no less remarkable on this account than for their own intrinsic beauty. Never before were the secret workings of the heart of a man of real genius, the dissatisfaction at the cold conventions of the world, and the waywardness which accompanies the heavenly fire with which the bosom of a real poet burns, so truly or so powerfully described. Such passages are worth all the metaphysics that the brains of pedants ever dreamed


Something too much of this ;-but now 'tis past,
And the spell closes with its silent seal,

Long absent Harold re-appears at last;

He of the breast which fain no more would feel,
Wrung with the wounds which kill not, but neʼer heal;

Yet Time, who changes all, had altered him

In soul and aspect as in age: years steal

Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb;
And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.

His had been quaffed too quickly, and he found

The dregs were wormwood; but he filled again,
And from a purer fount, on holier ground,

And deemed its spring perpetual; but in vain!
Still round him clung invisibly a chain

Which galled for ever, fettering though unseen,
And heavy though it clanked not; worn with pain,
Which pined although it spoke not, and grew keen,
Entering, with every step he took, through many a scene.

Secure in guarded coldness, he had mixed

Again in fancied safety with his kind,
And deemed his spirit now so firmly fixed
And sheathed with an invulnerable mind,
That, if no joy, no sorrow lurked behind:
And he, as one, might midst the many stand
Unheeded, searching through the crowd to find
Fit speculation! such as in strange land

He found in wonder-works of God and Nature's hand.

But who can view the ripened rose, nor seek
To wear it? who can curiously behold
The smoothness and the sheen of Beauty's cheek,
Nor feel the heart can never all grow old?
Who can contemplate Fame through clouds unfold
The star which rises o'er her steep, nor climb ?
Harold, once more within the vortex, rolled

On with the giddy circle, chasing Time,
Yet with a nobler aim than in his youth's fond prime.

But soon he knew himself the most unfit

Of men to herd with Man, with whom he held
Little in common; untaught to submit

His thoughts to others, though his soul was quelled
In youth by his own thoughts; still uncompelled,
He would not yield dominion of his mind

To spirits against whom his own rebelled: Proud though in desolation, which could find A life within itself, to breathe without mankind.


Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;

Where rolled the ocean, thereon was his home;
Where a blue sky, and glowing clime, extends,
He had the passion and the power to roam;
The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's foam,
Were unto him companionship; they spake

A mutual language, clearer than the tome
Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake
For Nature's pages, glassed by sunbeams on the lake.

Like the Chaldean, he could watch the stars,

Till he had peopled them with beings bright

As their own beams; and earth, and earth-born jars,
And human frailties, were forgotten quite :

Could he have kept his spirit to that flight
He had been happy; but this clay will sink
Its spark immortal, envying it the light
To which it mounts, as if to break the link

That keeps us from yon heaven, which woos us to its brink.

But in man's dwellings he became a thing
Restless and worn, and stern and wearisome—
Drooped as a wild-born falcon with clipt wing,
To whom the boundless air alone were home:
Then came his fit again, which to o'ercome,
As eagerly the barred-up bird will beat

His breast and beak against his wiry dome
Till the blood tinge his plumage, so the heat
Of his impeded soul would through his bosom eat.

After this preliminary burst, in which he relieved the feelings of his heart by expressing them, the self-exiled Harold wanders forth again,' and proceeds to give the history of his wanderings, an i of the impressions which are made upon him by the objects he saw, and in all of which the bitterness of his own disappointment mingles itself. He reaches the scene of the greatest battle that has been witnessed by modern times, the

'Place of skulls,

The grave of France, the deadly Waterloo!

The stanzas with which he introduces the subject breathe that in

« PreviousContinue »